J. M. Coetzee’s 1969 dissertation on Samuel Beckett, which remains unpublished, has been addressed variously within Coetzee studies, but we have not yet appreciated the close relation between this extraordinary postgraduate work and Coetzee’s later fiction. This is partly because Coetzee later distanced himself both from Beckett and from the mathematics important to his dissertation but seemingly at odds with his later creative practice as a novelist. In this essay I provide an account of the literary-critical and literary-historical context of Coetzee’s postgraduate research. Rarely have we seen an instance where one major writer is both a major influence on another but also the subject of that other’s rigorous academic study. From the infertile soil of the field of stylostatistics, this essay aims to trace the unlikely flowering of Coetzee’s doctoral work in his later writings and in the development of what I term a poetics of embeddedness. Coetzee’s early work as a forerunner in the digital humanities, and his writings on form, style, and linguistic skepticism, also shed light on contemporary debates about postcritique and the possibility of politically committed literature.
A Poetics of Embeddedness: J. M. Coetzee’s Dissertation on Beckett
Marc Farrant lectures in English literature and literary theory at the University of Amsterdam. His research focuses on the relationship between modernist forms and contemporary literature, especially Beckett’s influence, the work of J. M. Coetzee, and, most recently, the relation of the contemporary novel to the decline of liberalism as a political ideology. He has published essays in Textual Practice, Journal of Modern Literature, Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction, and Samuel Beckett Today/Aujourd’hui.
Marc Farrant; A Poetics of Embeddedness: J. M. Coetzee’s Dissertation on Beckett. Twentieth-Century Literature 1 September 2022; 68 (3): 323–352. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0041462X-10028096
Download citation file: